Government’s Science for Change program supports Visayas businesses with over P2.6B in grants, loans

The kick-off of the Department of Science and Technology’s Science for Change Program (S4CP) in Bacolod City in Negros Occidental last May 5 revealed that the department has been funding the agricultural, pharmaceutical, herbal supplement manufacturing, and regional science communities in the Visayas region.

The event, titled “Science for Change is Science for the People,” highlighted positive changes brought about by the S4CP-funded projects in terms of regional development and industrial competitiveness from the lens of researchers, beneficiaries, and stakeholders.

The summit showcased the accomplishments of its four subcomponent programs: 1) Niche Center in the Region for R&D Program (Nicer), 2) Collaborative R&D to Leverage the Philippine Economy Program (Cradle), 3) Business Innovation through S&T for Industry Program (BIST), and; 4) R&D Leadership Program (RDLead) in all the regions in the country. This first leg featured programs/projects in the Visayas Cluster at the Seda Hotel.

“We have come a long way in our efforts to ensure change through accelerating R&D in the country. With S4CP, R&D transforms communities through the projects that our various stakeholders are undertaking,” said DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña. “Our summit aims to boast the impacts of our different R&D undertakings. You will hear success stories straight from the project leaders, industry representatives, and beneficiaries themselves,” he added. 

“Now that we have set the foundation of the Science for Change Program, let us sustain its traction and encourage more R&D participation from the various sectors, more importantly from the industry,” said DOST Undersecretary for Regional Operations Sancho A. Mabborang. “With more RDIs, SUCs, HEIs, and private firms engaged in research, we envision more society-centric solutions and demand-driven technology development initiatives, thereby bringing S&T closer to every Filipino.”

DOST-NRCP Director Marietta Sumagaysay, DOST Region VII Assistant Regional Director Marilyn Radam, Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, and DOST Region VI Regional Director Rowen Gelonga light the torch opening the Science for Change Program (S4CP) Summit.

“Regional support is the key to national development. If we improve and empower our stakeholders in the regions, progress on a national scale follows,” explained Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara. 

Under the Nicer Program, wherein grants are provided to qualified higher-education institutions (HEIs), 42 projects were established across 17 regions in the country with approved grants worth P2.23 billion implemented by 47 HEIs and hospitals.

The Cradle Program, on the other hand, is a collaboration between private companies and universities or research and development institutes (RDIs). Here, the industry identifies the problem, while the HEIs or RDIs undertake R&D. To date, 86 projects with approved grants amounting to P388.6 million have been implemented by 36 HEIs and 87 industry partners across 10 regions. In the Visayas, MCPI Corp, a leading natural carrageenan manufacturer and exporter, partnered with the University of San Carlos (USC) to develop three product lines, namely cold-soluble powders, bioplastic sheets, and bioactive hydrogels. The results of the studies will help the industry design bioplastic with desired rigidity and strength, constitute powders that dissolve in tap water without heating, and prepare hydrogels for biomedical use.

In BIST, financial assistance to Filipino private companies is provided for the acquisition of strategic and relevant technologies for R&D. Currently, there are four BIST projects with P43.3 million in approved financial assistance. Herbanext, a 100% Filipino-owned company in Bago City, Negros Occidental, manufactures botanical ingredients, nutraceuticals, functional food products, herbal drugs and herbal cosmetics. The company received an interest-free loan worth P11.7 million. Through the fund, the company acquired premier art extraction equipment and modern pilot scale machinery that allows increase in potency and therapeutic quality and reduces issues in shelf stability and microbial load, a problem common in manufacturing herbal products.

“Herbanext is more empowered to do more research and more confident in the quality and safety of our herbal products. In the not-so-distant future, we look forward to the export of world-class Filipino herbal medicine,” said Philip Cruz, president of Herbanext Laboratories Inc.

Furthermore, addressing regional disparity does not only entail having R&D facilities and technologies, it also involves human resources. One of the sub-components of the S4CP is the RDLead Program which aims to develop and strengthen research capabilities of the academe and RDIs nationwide with innovative direction and leadership from local S&T experts. There are currently 65 RDLeaders engagements in 17 regions and 56 host institutions capacitated in research. 

In Visayas, Dr. Esperanza Maribel Agoo of Bohol Island State University, an expert in plant taxonomy, conservation, and ecology, shared, “There is a need to tap the university’s existing resources in manpower and facilities for them to gain more impactful research. Notably, there is also a need for the institution to be more aware of the research priorities of funding agencies and for researchers to collaborate more among themselves and at the regional, national, and international level.”

The S4C Program opened the opportunities to research institutions and industries to invest in R&D to improve their processes, operations, and profits. With these R&D investments, Visayas sees industry revitalization and progress in pharmaceuticals, herbal supplement manufacturing, and other collaborative research and partnerships.

“We will continue capitalizing in R&D,” underscored Guevara. Thus, the need to pass the S4CP Bill into law. The bill intends to support R&D initiatives that address the needs of the people. With extensive collaboration and efforts, DOST hopes to continue delivering S4CP-funded projects all over the regions, and support from stakeholders will ensure lasting change happens.